Social Media Apps: Showing the Way

In this piece I’ve written for Digital Ministry , I¬† discuss why developers should take an interest in social media apps and provide some key tips for building successful apps.

Why do social media apps matter?

RockYou, one of the leading app developers has over 150 million app views a day. Across their ad network they are receiving 2 billion pageviews a month.
To achieve such scale takes hard work, but it is achievable.

When BJ Fogg and Dave McClure decided to run a course on Persuasive Apps & Metrics at Stanford University the Facebook platform was already up and running. So they decided that students attending the course would use Facebook as a ‘petri dish’.

The result was over 50 apps created by 75 students with a total install base of 20 million and a total daily active user rate of 925,000. Five of the apps created by the students hit the Facebook Top 100 and almost $1 million in revenue was generated in 6 months. The course also led to 5 commercial projects, 3 companies being formed and 2 companies being acquired.

The key learnings that came out of the course were:
1. It’s never too late to create a winning app – when the course launched, over 6000 Facebook apps existed, 10 weeks later, students already had 5 apps in the top 100;
2. Simplicity and clarity are key to app success – apps need to be easily understood with a clear value proposition and they should be easy to use. Clever names and too many features are will stall user acceptance;
3. Speed and flexibility in both launch and iterations is key – many crummy trials beat deep thinking, flexibility beats quality. Don’t get too attached to one app idea;
4. Community cooperation leads to success – sharing code, tips, insights and listening to the community are great ways to leverage up your individual skill base;
5. Individual opinions about an app are worthless – don’t be swayed by one person’s opinion, just get the app out there and see what happens;
6. Copying success is a cheap/fast way to succeed – novelty isn’t the best approach to apps. The flipside – if your app is doing well, expect imitators; and
7. Metrics do matter, but today’s tools are too weak – instrument your apps to track viral aspects.

Over the past year a lot of action has taken place in the social media arena. Facebook launched its app platform in May 2007. A few months later Open Social arrived. Open Social is a common open set of APIs for building social applications across multiple sites. The MySpace Developer Platform has since emerged as the largest implementation of Open Social.

The stats over the past 12 months reveal that over 24,000 apps have been made, 95% of social network users have installed an app. One of the key successes to these social media platforms has been and continues to be the opportunities that developer have to monetise.

The company SocialMedia, which runs an advertising suite has paid out over $8 million to its network of 1,000 developers on Facebook and OpenSocial through May 2008. The company itself secured $4m in financing and has grown to have 25 staff and expects to generate revenue in the double digit millions for fiscal year 2008.

In short – social media apps matter, big time and web developers, strategists and marketers should sit up and taken notice.

The Web as Social Media

The Web is quickly changing from being purely informational to becoming more social. This can be seen by the rise in popularity of social networks, with their users becoming more and more engaged. These social networks are part of a growing fabric of social platforms, onto which apps are spreading.

Charlene Li, an analyst with Forrester, sees social networks becoming ‘like air’. Within this ubiquitous fabric, applications are an extremely effective way to micro-touch and communicate with users.

There are four points Li calls on developers to remember when considering what apps to build:
1. Create compelling social experiences, not social graph lock-in
2. Develop social apps that have meaning
3. Integrate into existing activities
4. Design business models that reflect the value created by people?s social networks

When designing apps developers need to find a balance between virality and engagement. Virality involves getting users to spread to others with one users causing at least one more user to install the app. Engagement on the other hand involved building individual user experience, increasing pageviews and loyalty.

Achieving viral engagement is the nirvana for app developers. RockYou identifies that there are four distinct audiences, all of whom require different approaches for increasing viral engagement.

The first group is new users. By building clean flows and focusing on linear, one-action flows developers can maximise new user activation. Requiring new users to register can severely diminish uptake.

The second group is direct friends. Apps need to communicate a clear value proposition to a new user for inviting their friend network to install that app. The invitation itself should be within one or two steps of a new user installing so as to maximise that user’s viral value.

The third group is indirect friends. With this group the focus needs to be on messaging Р friends of friends will be driven to install apps that communicate increasing and simply understood value via newsfeed or profile messages and notifications.

The fourth and final group is interested parties. Simple tools such as answers, comments and ratings allow for interaction without full engagement and can drive more universal use of an app.

There are a number of other factors to take into account when building apps – including genre and demographic targeting, creating viral loops and building in monetisation hooks. If you would like to learn more about the huge opportunity social media apps represent contact me at rand at metarand dot com.
In addition, I’m hosting a series of MySpace devJams during the month of July at which developers can learn more about building social media apps. For more details of these events check out: http://tinyurl.com/4qvkoj .

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2 thoughts on “Social Media Apps: Showing the Way

  1. Great article!

    It’s fantastic to see the level of innovation occurring on the Facebook platform at the moment – and I largely agree with Charlene’s view on the types of applications to build.

    However I keep getting this little worry that we’re all tying ourselves into another paradigm that might restrict us in the future.

    The strength of social media is how it connects people and propagates new ideas – but all the ideas are within a broad framework.

    What’s outside that framework that we’re all missing?

  2. Good thinking, Craig. The construct we are currently presented with is but one dimension – keep thinking outside the framework …

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